This week, Californication takes several TV and movie clichés — saying good-bye to a loved one at the airport, the visit from an old high-school friend, even the crass sight gag of sex with midgets — and turns them on their heads, with mixed results.
In the highlight, the show’s opening scene, Hank is wishing Becca farewell before she flies east. She’s being an awful teenager, annoyed she has to visit her mother in New York and miss the wild party scene at the Lakers game. But Hank’s confused who is this creature he’s looking at? “It’s New York — in the fall, no less. You’re going to be stepping off that plane into a Woody Allen film. Not recent Woody Allen, old Woody Allen ... I’m jealous.” To her, this trip is just more proof that he doesn’t get her or her life at all.
She rises to board the plane. “Stay,” she tells him, as if he were a lap dog. And, as she walks away, he begins to plead with her, and with God, under his breath. “Come on, turn around, just once, then I’ll know you still love me. Please God, come on, come on.” We’ve seen this scene many times before, but not between parent and child, and it has a sweet ring. At the last minute, she does look back. And, even though she rolls her eyes at him, his joy bursts off the screen. It’s a wonderful moment for Duchovny. But it’s all downhill from there.
Conveniently exiting from another plane in the same terminal (apparently) is Hank’s best childhood pal — from Levittown, Long Island, no less, despite Hank’s projection of himself as a lifetime member of the Manhattan intelligentsia. Hank greets Zloz warmly, and with another cliché, saying he hasn’t aged a bit. “Is it 1987?” (His pal looks like a Springsteen groupie circa Darkness on the Edge of Town, grizzled and in leather.) But do the math: 49-year-old Duchovny would have been getting out of high school in 1977, not 1987. We don’t know whether the character or the actor is deluding themselves here.
They embark on a weekend of drunken revelry, involving half-naked karaoke, a fully naked Duchovny, a transvestite, bubble baths, a little person inexplicably wearing a tutu, and three strippers. (If you’re not watching this show, you’re missing something.) Charlie joins in the bacchanalia also, since Marcy has thrown him out, ridiculously, for contracting an STD while they were separated. (You can almost hear Ross from Friends moaning to Rachel: “But we were on a break!”) Along the way, we meet Sue’s wheelchair-bound, sybarite husband, Dickie. He’s lustily played by Stephen Root, a Coen Brothers stalwart. It’s a grouping so diabolical they deserve their own spinoff. We also get a glimpse of the Collini bedroom, filled with sex-toy furniture that’s Walt Disney by way of Larry Flynt.
At the end of the liquor-soaked weekend, we find that Zloz may be dying of some mysterious ailment, and Hank finally gets the obvious moral of the story: to treasure the things that really matter in life — friends and family. Now, it’s the audience rolling its eyes. Then, we’re back at the airport to pick up Becca. Karen has unexpectedly returned to L.A. to visit, and her wide smile's arrival electrifies the show and everyone in it. Becca looks happy for the first time this season.
But, of course, there’s trouble ahead. After a long night and a bubble bath together, Jackie has termed Hank her “boyfriend.” Talk about TV clichés: Getting possessive of Hank Moody is the equivalent of wearing a red shirt on Star Trek. Something very bad is about to happen.